Category Archives: Holidays

Holiday and Holy Days

In a July 4 post, I mentioned that my father did not like holidays. I suppose a more appropriate word would have been didn’t celebrate those days. It wasn’t his religious faith (our church recognized the main religious celebrations) or that he didn’t like the food. His philosophy was to treat every day the same. Or so he told me. But Sunday was always different at our house.

No work on Sunday, a holy day. None. Nada. Zero. If something broke, an emergency fix held it until Monday. No cleaning beyond mopping up a spill or a quick sweep of the broom to pick up food crumbs after a meal. Mama cooked Sunday dinner on Saturday. Foods that could be refrigerated and eaten cold—fried chicken or ham, potato salad, deviled eggs—or foods that could be warmed on the gas stove burners. Sunday was a quiet day at home. Church first followed by lunch.

We wore our church clothes all day, so resting, napping, writing letters, reading, listening to gospel music or preachers on the radio, and light play for children were the acceptable activities. Then leftovers for dinner before we departed for Sunday evening church. My father frowned when we skipped Sunday evening church with him and Mama to go to an amusement park while on vacation in Missouri, but he didn’t punish our defiance.  Ah, the taste of freedom.

My mother continued most of the Sunday traditions after my father died that fall. “It would be disrespectful to his memory not to,” she said. Energetic twin teens changed that. We tried to keep the morning and evening church schedule with Mama, but we visited neighbors or friends on Sunday—sometimes in church clothes, sometimes not—and we abandoned Sunday quiet times.

And holy days and holidays, no matter what day of the week, became our favorite times to get away from home.

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Holidays, Memoir, Reading, Writing

Whose birthday celebration?

My Independence Day memories zero in on waterside family picnics. Married brothers and brothers-in-law carried ice chests through weeds, across rocks, toward a flatter surface of gravel and gritty sand. Gladys, my oldest brother’s wife, stepped carefully while she guarded a homemade birthday cake for James, her third child. The other ladies carrying fried chicken, bowls of potato salad, plates of deviled eggs, and other picnic foods dodged children, including me, who were dashing unencumbered toward the gentle river. Children frolicked in the water while the ladies spread the food and shooed away the flies. A few fellas tried their hands at fishing upstream of the children, but a fish fry seldom happened.

One Fourth of July when James was about nine or ten, the family scattered different places, some with in-law families, some with friends. Some, like James’s father, chose to do farm work, then grill burgers and hot dogs in the evening. James was devastated.

“But what about my birthday picnic?”

“We’ll have cake at home after supper,” his mother said. “Just us.”

“But, school’s out for the summer, and the whole family always takes off work because it’s my birthday.”

Gladys shook her head in dismay. “Fourth of July was the birthday of the United States long before you were born. We don’t work on the Fourth of July because it’s a holiday.”

“You mean like Jesus’s birthday when we all eat at Grandma Carr’s on Christmas day? Not because July 4 is my birthday?”

         Find A Grave Photo

 

This Fourth of July, I decorated my front porch railing with wired flag ribbon and secured a hand-size flag to my metal security door with a white chenille wrap. I lunched alone at In-N-Out Burger. This evening, I watched the city fireworks from the sidewalk a half-block from home surrounded by people I don’t know shrouded in the darkness. My last thoughts as I returned home was how that simplicity might have been James’s choice if he were still living.

 

Happy birthday, America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir

Flying Holiday Flags

My father disliked holidays. My mother cherished them. My father’s rule was to treat every day equal. Mama made holidays something to remember. Not with elaborate decorations but from basics.

On New Year’s Day, we ate black-eyed peas and ham hocks with cornbread. Maybe because of Mama’s superstitious ways. Probably because there was no work for farm hands in the winter and that was the cheapest menu that would spread to two meals. I suppose the flag flew over the local post office and City Hall to declare it a holiday, but we didn’t venture out on that cold day.

The next month brought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Flags flew again, on each day, declaring it a holiday, a day to stay home from school.

Spring brought Easter. Mama gathered eggs from our backyard chicken pen for several days. On Saturday, she filled an aluminum canning pot with water and carried it to the old gas range. She deposited the eggs one by one and hardboiled them. She rinsed the cooked eggs in the kitchen sink and spread them to dry on flour sack dishtowels on the mottled gray linoleum countertop. While the eggs cooled, she arranged a row of cups.  She filled the cups halfway with water, dropped one round colored tablet into each, and stirred until she achieved colors worthy of celebration. Hours later, the colored eggs rested in two Easter baskets, ready to be hidden in the yard for our personal egg hunt. Lots of fun but no flags.

On Decoration Day, we rode to the local cemetery with a brother-in-law to watch the somber task ahead. Young World War II veterans and a few survivors of World War I placed American flags on each veteran’s gravesite. A ceremony followed at ten o’clock. We listened to more somber words. Marines marched in precision, flower arrangements peeking between shined black shoes as they passed civilian graves along the paved route.

“Why, Mama?” I asked. “Why do those graves get flowers instead of flags?”

“Because it’s Decoration Day,” she said.

“It’s called Memorial Day now,” my brother-in-law said.

“Who named it that?” I asked.

“The gov’ment,” Mama said.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day. Not a holiday, but our neighbors displayed flags from the size on veterans’ graves to five-footers angled from flagpoles on porches. We would have joined them if we had owned a flag.

“Why all the flags? Is this another Decoration Day?” I asked.

“No, it’s Flag Day,” Mama said.

“Who named it that?”

“The gov’ment,” she said.

Armistice Day on November 11, brought another federal holiday. A somber tribute to the end of World War I in 1918 brought more parades and flags.

Today, May 27, 2019, is Memorial Day in the U.S. I clipped a six-inch flag to my door. There are no parades in the city where I live now. A few people will gather at the local cemeteries for brief ceremonies, a few words from a city official, and a military-style presentation of flags. Boaters fill the lake south of the city. Picnickers lounge in the sun, if it appears on this cloudy day. On the west side of town bordering a neighboring city, the freeway and city streets near the premium brands outlet mall are jammed with cars and tour buses transporting shoppers, some visiting from as far away as Asia.

Wait. Who moved Decoration Day from May 30 to the last Monday of May and renamed it Memorial Day?

My mother’s words echo the answer.

“The gov’ment.”

 

4 Comments

Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir

New Year’s Resolutions 2019

Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn something new. All these are popular New Year’s resolutions according to Peter Economy on Inc. Statistics show that many abandon their goals the first week. Some manage 21 days. Even some of the hardy falter after 90 days. The stalwart hang on but few accomplish their goals.

I’ve been successful at keeping my New Year’s resolution for many years. My secret to success? Skip the resolutions. This year, a few celebrities have expressed that mindset.

Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year. Last year, her word was grace.

Oprah Winfrey reminds us to be careful what we chose. With a twist of humor, she advises not to ask for courage because you don’t know what you’ll have to go through to get it. She says she “lives in the moment.” Instead of making resolutions, she has written five things in a grateful journal each night since 1995.

I began my grateful journal with three things each night on New Year’s Day 2017.  I made it through the next day. I skipped a week, then a month. The last entry on May 24, 2018, was a single line. “I am grateful for the stability of a cane.”

This year, after a thirty-month absence from my journal, I wrote my chiropractor’s name.  Those treatments have made it possible for me to walk cane-free on most days and to sit at my computer for longer periods.

Perhaps I will end 2019 with gratitude that my novel has been published. Along the way, I will be grateful for my novel critique group who have helped me over the rough spots.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Events, Holidays, Publishing, Writing

Countdown to Christmas

Advent calendars begin the countdown to Christmas on the first day of December. My mother began the countdown in early fall when she put dolls on layaway for my twin and me. Papa commenced (his word choice) his countdown at Red’s Market, an easy four-block walk from home. My twin and I were too young to stay alone, so we tagged along with Papa and Mama.

I gazed at the candies, but Papa forged toward the open bins of nuts when they finished the regular list. His eyes darted between the tiny round hazelnuts and the heavy brazil nuts as though a major decision. Instead, he dipped a metal scoop into a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspected each and discarded those with imperfect shells. He poured the walnuts from the scoop into a lunch-size brown paper bag and centered it on the scale hanging from a chain. He checked the weight, calculated the price, and returned two or three walnuts to the bin. He added the cost to his pocket notebook.

At checkout, Papa double checked every price as Mr. Red rang up the items. Satisfied that the cash register total matched the notebook price, Papa extracted his tri-fold black leather billfold from his hip pocket. He transferred the rubber band onto his left wrist, removed a few dollar bills with his right hand, and gave them to Mr. Red. Papa slipped the wallet back in place then counted the change before he dropped the coins into his front pant pocket.

At home, Papa carried the sparse groceries into the kitchen for Mama to put away. He walked into the next room carrying the small bag of walnuts in one hand. He lifted the trap door in the dining room floor, twisted around, and descended the ladder-like steps into the dark hole. The coldness escaped and seeped into my bones. I saw the warm glow below when he pulled the cord hanging from the single light bulb attached to the ceiling. Metal scraped concrete as he pulled out the round storage can reserved for Christmas treats. Next, a distinct pop when he opened the lid. The sounds reversed when Papa snapped the lid closed and pushed the can back under the steps. Darkness again as he climbed the ladder.

On the next two grocery trips, Papa bought a scoop of hazelnuts, then brazil nuts. Mama’s wish for a fresh coconut was next on the list. After Thanksgiving, Papa examined the Christmas confections. Hard ribbon candy and tiny squares were his favorites. After each of these trips, he repeated the cellar rituals.

Winter work was scarce, so the last grocery trip before Christmas was for flour, sugar, and lard for baking. Papa calculated the prices, then stopped at the candy bins. He pushed the smallest scoop into the chocolate drops. Satisfied, he poured them into a small paper sack.

At home, he carried the tiny treasure toward the cellar. I asked for one. “Candies are for Christmas,” was his reply. The chocolates joined the other Christmas treats in the storage can.

On Christmas Eve morning, pleasant aromas permeated our modest home. While Mama cooked chicken and dressing, sweet potatoes, and pies, Papa trekked to the cellar several times and returned with the bags from the storage can.

I pleaded for the chocolate drops. Mama interceded, and surprisingly, Papa opened the bag and offered one each to my sister and me. I closed my eyes and bit slowly, hoping for the luscious taste of lemon or creamy maple. The center was artificial strawberry. My disappointment will be short-lived because I can eat all the chocolates I want tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Christmas.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir

Thanksgiving Traditions

What’s on your Thanksgiving menu? In the United States, turkey is traditional. Various sides begin with stuffing (my mother called it dressing) flanked by macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, and other green or yellow vegetables. Then for dessert, there’s traditional pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Or perhaps, apple or pecan pie. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream and bring on the hot coffee or tea.

Why do we call these foods traditional? Because they’ve been around a long time. How long? Definitely not the focus of the first Thanksgiving dinner which originated during fall harvest four centuries ago. According to the Smithsonian, venison and wild fowl were the mainstays. Sides aren’t mentioned, but corn seemed to be in abundance. And forget the pies, the Smithsonian says.

What? Pastry has been a favorite since ancient Greeks, and Queen Elizabeth I is credited with baking the first cherry pie. The American Pie Council says pies (first spelled pyes) were a tradition of the first English settlers to the Colonies, but the Smithsonian says they were absent from the Pilgrims’ table in 1621.

My mother, a descendant of French Huguenots who migrated to America to escape religious persecution, made her pie crusts with lard. She favored mincemeat, pumpkin, and apple fillings but made a variety depending on the tastes of who would be coming to dinner.

Dinner. The Pilgrims celebrated for three days, but dinner was at our house was at high noon in California, USA. Papa settled himself at the table laden with food, and lifted his watch, the chain firmly attached to his pocket, five minutes early. Perhaps he and Mama had a hidden signal, or perhaps from years of this tradition, she immediately called everyone to the dining room. The adults sat at the table—all but Mama. She stood behind the chairs with the children. At precisely twelve, Pacific Standard Time, Papa slid his watch back into his pocket and said the blessing over the food. After the Amen, mothers filled plates for their children to take to the kitchen table. Teens carried plates heaped with food to the living room or front porch, depending on the weather. Mama hustled back and forth to the kitchen refilling serving bowls with food. By the time she sat at the table with her children and their spouses, they were ready for dessert. Off she went again, carrying slices of pie to those who sat while she served.

After dinner, the women washed and dried the dishes and swept crumbs from the linoleum floors. Some of my brothers and my sisters’ husbands went outside to smoke—another of Papa’s house rules. Long before cell phones and video games, Thanksgiving was a day of food and conversation for adults, games for the kids. Lots of laughter. No TV—we couldn’t afford one—so the crowd thinned in late afternoon to go home and watch football in black and white.

That evening, long before home microwaves, Mama warmed leftovers on the kitchen stove. When the dishes were done, she boiled water, made herself a cup of tea, and rested.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir

Truce

A signed armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 signaled the end of World War I. The first Armistice Day celebration was November 11,  1919. My parents had two children then. World War II ended September 2, 1945. At the end of WWII, my parents had nine children, ages six to thirty-one, and grandchildren ages up to age seven. Several of those grandsons later served in the Korean Conflict and Viet Nam.

We honored all the dead in our family—military and civilian—on Memorial Day and the living military men on Veterans Day. My mother called the May holiday Decoration Day and the November holiday Armistice Day. We spent the May morning at the Chowchilla Cemetery placing flowers on any veteran’s grave. After my father died in November 1953, my mother insisted that we adorn his grave with flowers on Armistice Day although he was a civilian during all the wars. She said, “It might look bad if his grave was bare on that day so many neighbors visited the cemetery.”

The red poppy became symbolic for Veterans Day, but my mother, a widow, seldom had a spare quarter to donate in exchange for the handmade paper flower. One year, the veteran accepted a dime and handed her a red paper poppy. She pinned it to the right side of her dress. When my brother-in-law, a WWII veteran, saw it, he insisted she move it over her heart. To keep the peace, a truce of sorts, she wore it there until he left. Then, she moved it back to the right side.

“What’d you do that for, Grandma?” one of the grandsons born during World War II asked. “The vets pin their poppies on the left.”

“That’s why I moved it,” she said, her black brows drawn together. “They’re men, but I’m a woman.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir